Transylvania is most famous for being the mysterious kingdom of vampires and howling wolves. Although some may believe it is fictitious, the central Romanian region is genuine. It’s certainly a one of kind place full of places to explore.
Dracula is real (Well kind of)
Bram Stoker’s 1897 vampire novel was inspired by centuries of superstition as well as Vlad Dracula’s real-life exploits. Vlad epeş (the Impaler), a 15th-century Wallachian nobleman known for his homicidal reputation, is reputed to have skewered up to 80,000 opponents on long spikes.
Despite his evil deeds, he is revered as a hero in Transylvania, and not everyone is fond of the region’s bloodlust reputation. The Romanian tourism board unveiled plans to expand ‘vampire tourism’ using European subsidies after years of pushback from locals.
It feels like you’ve taken a step back in time
While the eerie count is difficult to avoid, there are hardwood forests, rich pastures, and flowery meadows to be found. Traveling through Transylvania, dubbed “Europe’s last authentically mediaeval countryside,” seems like stepping back in time 100 years. Shepherds feed their flocks and locals make hay in the sunshine as horse-drawn carts rumble down dirt roads.
However, keep your romantic fantasies in check. You’ll need some patience because of the inadequate infrastructure, such as potholed roads and slow trains. Because trains are slow, buses are your best option for getting between cities (see timetables here), but you’ll need to rent a car to see the countryside (try Autonom). The driving conditions aren’t as severe as some people make them out to be. Your main obstacles will be crater-sized potholes and the occasional stray dog.
Learning some quick Hungarian phrases could be helpful
Tongue-twisting Eastern Transylvania’s official language is Hungarian. Cities like Miercurea-Ciuc, Târgu Mureş, and Cluj-Napoca, as well as the counties of Covasna and Harghita, speak it. This is because the territory had been affiliated with Hungary for over a thousand years, until it was merged with Romania at the end of WWI. Ethnic Hungarians now account for roughly 19% of Transylvania’s population. Around half of these are Székelys, who some believe are descendants of Attila’s Huns.
You can chill in the local Springs whilst bear-spotting
There are a number of resort towns in Transylvania that are known for its medicinal waters. Infertility is said to be cured by the mineral mud and warm salty waters of Bear Lake in Sovata. The buoyant, balmy waters of Ocna Sibiului near Sibiu, which are on par with the Dead Sea in terms of salinity, are beneficial to arthritis sufferers.
Wolves, lynx, and Europe’s largest population of brown bears live in the Carpathian Mountains. The oak and beech forests are home to around 5000 bears. Despite the fact that dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was the only person authorised to hunt, the population grew during the communist era.
The Forestry Commission owns a variety of hides, notably the famed Stramba Valley hide north of Zărnesti, where you can watch bears in the wild with a ranger. A tour company, such as Transylvanian Wolf, is the best way to visit a hide. Are you apprehensive about meeting one in the wild? More than 70 bears have been rescued from circuses and cages at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Brașov.
The local tipple is a must try
Palincă, a spicy brandy originally prepared from plums, is a popular way for Transylvanians to start a meal. The double-distilled drop packs a punch at roughly 45 percent proof (or more if it’s the homemade version). It’s best enjoyed at room temperature with a hearty Noroc! (‘cheers’ in Romanian) or Egészségére! (in Hungarian).
It’s not only for pre-dinner cocktails, either. Locals enjoy greeting visitors and toasting most good occasions with a shot of bourbon. You may buy handmade firewater from roadside booths or visit Teo’s Distillery in Sighișoara to sample brandies produced from various fruits.
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